The Vatican is not pleased.
It fears that a liberal, secular society is eroding the international Catholic community by infusing the U.S. church with ideas that do not conform to modern Catholic orthodoxy. To reign in what the Vatican perceives as dangerous dissent, it has started to appoint conservative bishops and chastise members of the clergy whose preachings are seen as being at odds with the church’s strict dogma.
Imagine the surprise of U.S. nuns at being called “radical feminists.” It is difficult to consider a group of women that has pledged obedience to a male-dominated hierarchical institution as feminist, much less radical. Yet the Vatican deems some of their activities – such as making comments that appear to disagree with ideas put forth by male bishops, the “church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” – as precisely that: radically feminist. Included in the failings on the part of the nuns is that they have not been more vocal advocates for the anti-choice and anti- contraception tenets of the modern-day church. Nuns have been rebuked for spending too much time advocating for the poor, for instance, instead of lecturing on the evils of reproduction control.
Pointing out to the Vatican that the church’s current stance on abortion is far from immutable, would probably also be regarded as radical. Yet, until the late 19th century, teachings by notable Catholic theologians were clear that the embryo is not “human” at conception and that pregnancy termination before the time that the soul enters the fetal body is not murder – therefore not the grave sin that the church preaches it to be today. The Church does not discuss or teach those theories, maintaining that it is conserving the Catholic ideals such as they have always been.
Another distasteful issue for the Vatican is that of clergy, male and female, whose “liberal” activities – such as advocating for social justice – are seen as intrusive upon the time that should be spent expounding on the church’s official policies. Many of the clergy in question draw their inspiration from the spirit of Vatican II (1962), which reformed many of the traditions that were seen as divisive between the clergy and its laity. Notably Vatican II planted the seed for liberation theology in Latin America, a movement that reached full bloom during the 1980s. Preferential treatment for the poor, advocating against social inequities, an active role in the politics affecting the disenfranchised were all central to this special brand of Latin American catholic ministry.
The Church has taken a stance against the new health care policies. In the past, the Catholic policy in the U.S. has been to advocate for reform, but the current Catholic backlash against President Obama’s landmark legislation centers around the question of contraception. Latinos, along with the majority of U.S. Catholics, find contraception to be acceptable. Perhaps it is time for the Church to take inventory of its policies; it is suffering from a significant loss of believers and will probably continue to do so unless reforms are instituted.